Our fractured future

This post started as an embryonic thought in my mind nearly a year ago. It’s about coal seam gas (CSG) mining and hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ – terms that are even more of a conversation-killer than the topic of my last post.

There is still a great deal of vagueness around the CSG industry, and I think the exploration companies prefer it that way.

Yet there is enough information out there if you look for it. I won’t list all the (reputable and rational) discussions of evidence that fracking or CSG mining is bad for the environment and bad for people – if you’re interested, they’re not hard to find. DeSmogBlog, Yale environment360 and Mother Jones are a good start. Also a must-see is the movie Gasland, by Josh Fox.

The major perils of fracking appear to be localised earthquakes, toxic chemicals leaching into the groundwater and methane and other gases bubbling randomly out of the earth or into waterways. Just this week it was revealed that methane has appeared bubbling into the beautiful Condamine River in Queensland – a major river which flows down to the Mighty Murray – right near an operating CSG well. Of course the government and Origin Energy (the frackers) claim it is a natural occurrence, even though none of the local folk have ever seen or heard of anything like this happening until now. (Thankfully, see here for an environmental engineer from Monash University questioning Origin’s assertion, voicing what we were already thinking.)

Condamine Sunset

The elusive chemicals used in the fracking process have been the subject of much discussion – of course no one can verify exactly which chemicals are used (although the words benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, collectively known as the deadly BTEX, have been thrown about).

A Queensland government presentation on their wonderful world of CSG lists the “additives” in fracking fluid as “Acids (prefracking), Crosslinker, Gel, Breaker, Corrosion and scale inhibitor, pH adjusting agent, Friction reducer, Potassium chloride and Disinfectants”.

Right at the end of the presentation, under the title “What’s Next?”, the need for “prescribing a BTEX standard” and “developing a notification protocol for BTEX detection” are listed…points 6 & 7, mind you. Shouldn’t this have already been done before BTEX started being lobbed about the countryside?

In America, major health problems are on the rise in CSG regions, in both people and animals. Even more insidiously, lawmakers in some states are currently trying to pass laws that will prevent doctors from revealing the chemicals or substances involved when they are treating someone who is suffering from fracking exposure. The drilling companies are behind these new laws, claiming they need to keep their “trade secrets” safe. In 2005 they also successfully lobbied to gain exemption from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – effectively removing the EPA’s right to monitor groundwater near fracking sites. Welcome to the Free World.

France and Bulgaria have recently banned fracking while other European countries have moratoria in place. Last year England suspended the industry from further development due to the uncertainty surrounding the process and after earthquakes began occurring near CSG sites.

Yet here in Australia, we are once again galloping blindly into the abyss. CSG has been on Queensland’s radar for years, and New South Wales is close behind. There are approximately 3,500 CSG wells in Queensland at the moment and by 2025 the government expects there will be 7-10,000 in the Bowen Basin and 10-15,000 in the Surat Basin pumping out ill-won cash…along with the thousands of hectares of land currently under application for coal (cash) exploration in the state…and don’t forget the “billions of dollars” to be gained from the Galilee mega-mine. Yet Queensland’s state government pulled funding from the Cloncurry Solar Farm saying it wasn’t their priority. Is renewable energy really the responsibility of the private sector to develop, as the government claims?

Related posts: Pollution and ProfitLearning Danger

Related links: Lock the Gate Alliance Inc.

© Manu Saunders 2012

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